Good Shepherd Sisters celebrate province’s 150th jubilee

BOSTON -- Sisters of the Good Shepherd serving throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, gathered at the Holy Family Monastery in Hartford, Conn. Sept. 17 to open a year of celebration commemorating the founding of the order’s N.Y. province in 1857.

Bishop Peter Rosazza, auxiliary bishop of Hartford, celebrated the Jubilee Mass with concelebrants Father Gregory Paul, CP and Father Daniel O’Hare, SJ.

The bishop, whose aunt and great-aunt had been Good Shepherd sisters, began his homily saying, “In the name of the Church in the Northeast, permit me to thank all of you and those sisters who have gone before you, for your dedication, effective ministry and humble service of thousands of girls and young women in the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.”

He reminded all gathered of their humble beginnings when from France their foundress, St. Mary Euphrasia sent four sisters to New York City to open their home and hearts to women in need, particularly the young immigrant girls and women who were often in danger of exploitation in an unfamiliar country.

A young Englishwoman, Sister Mary of St. Magdalen, who was making her novitiate at the Motherhouse in Angers, France, had volunteered for the American mission and was sent by Sister Mary Euphrasia to the United States to be the first province leader of the newly created N.Y. province [consisting of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey]. Bishop Rosazza held up their foundress as an inspiration to all present, saying, “St. Mary Euphrasia saw young women who were suffering, and she responded so that they could grow in their humanity and get in touch with Christ in them....She showed that one can have a sense of dignity and serve humbly just as Jesus did.”

In a touching tribute the bishop continued: “St. Mary Euphrasia imitated Jesus in so many ways, or better still, she manifested the power of Christ in her as you do today.” He praised the expansion of the Good Shepherd mission here in the United States, as well as in foreign countries, explaining that St. Mary Euphrasia saw the whole world as her mission.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd are a long way from the little house on N.Y.’s East 14th Street where the sisters reportedly began with “a few mattresses and blankets, a frying pan, and two or three kitchen utensils.” Mrs. George Ripley and Mrs. Foster and several lay associates were responsible for the launching of the new fold, the former begging throughout the city for funds to begin, and the latter began “badgering the archbishop on behalf of the project,” and according to the annals of the community, she finally prevailed. In 1861 a Contemplative Good Shepherd community was formed to support the work in New York. The mission expanded greatly; many young women joined the community and countless numbers of women and children came to be served.

Ten years later five sisters headed by Kentucky-born Mother Mary Aloysius Charlton were invited by Boston’s Archbishop John Joseph Williams to begin the Good Shepherd mission in Boston. Despite early difficulties, the sisters were encouraged by Father John Bapst, SJ, the founding president of Boston College, to begin at once. Soon the number of children increased; the program moved three times to larger quarters until a huge building was completed on Huntington Ave., which served those in need until 1964 when a modern new complex, named Madonna Hall for Girls, was built in Marlborough, Mass., providing apartment-style living, education and clinical services for teen-age youngsters.

After flourishing for 20 years, Madonna Hall was forced to close because of state budget cuts, and the sisters located themselves in other settings, as social workers, hospital chaplains, in parishes, wherever people needed help.

Sister Mary Eileen Foley, RGS, a former principal at Mary Immaculate High School under the Madonna Hall for Girls Program, said she thinks often of the good times at Madonna Hall.

“I loved working with those girls -- they were the happiest days of my life,” she said.

Sister Mary Eileen added that the community will never forget their good friend, Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing, whose support was always there for them.

Throughout this Jubilee Year, events and celebrations will be scheduled wherever the sisters are located throughout the N.Y. Province.